The CNN-Heritage Foundation-American Enterprise Institute debate Tuesday night featured the best questions from the audience -- mostly scholars from Heritage and AEI -- of any debate so far. Wolf Blitzer did a tolerable job as moderator, though he did seem to give back-of-the-pack John Huntsman and libertarian Ron Paul a lot more time than their GOP voter appeal might merit. Huntsman used the time to advantage, and may pick up support for his performance, though he called for a pullout of mist forces from Afghanistan. Paul painted himself accurately as a libertarian convinced we are the problem, and that terrorists should be treated as criminals. Romney more than held his own, and Newt shined.
The closest thing to a gotcha moment was when Newt Gingrich advocated some means of judging locally whether to allow continued residency (not citizenship) for illegals that have resided in the United States a long time, have developed community ties, and have immediate family here. Michael Barone commented:
Gingrich was willing to risk getting into political trouble on immigration. Questioned about his support for the 1986 immigration reform bill, he said that he would favor something like the World War II era Selective Service Boards (another Grandpa Newt reference to history) deciding which illegal immigrants could stay in the country, because they had become part of the community, had been earning a decent living and raising a family over long periods of time, and which should be deported because they had only been here recently, had no significant personal or community ties and should be sent home. (snip)
...his proposal was immediately attacked as amnesty by Michele Bachmann (who later noted that people had been arrested in her home state of Minnesota for involvement in the al Shahab Somali terrorist group) and by Mitt Romney, who on this issue has been taking what I think is an opportunistic position that any amnesty is intolerable. That gave him a basis for attacking Rick Perry's support for in-state college tuition for children of illegal immigrants (approved by a large bipartisan majority in the Texas legislature, not a body known to be dominated by liberal squishes) and for attacking the proposal Gingrich advanced in the debate.
While there is clear danger in rewarding those who flouted the law, a system of fines or other measures (community service, for instance) could ensure that we don't merely reward the line jumpers. More broadly, the proposal to deport everyone who came here illegally is simply impractical and electorally disastrous. What is the advantage to America in deporting an illegal who has come here, worked hard, paid taxes, and started a family consisting of legal residents and citizens? Who gains from this? Certainly not GOP candidates seeking Hispanic votes.
Herman Cain did nothing to counteract the impression that he is not well versed in foreign policy issues. His mention of stopping purchasing oil from Syria was silly. Syria is not a major oil producer, and American purchases of oil from Syria are not an important factor for either nation. There was an amusing but not serious flub when he called Wolf Blitzer "Blitz" - and quickly corrected himself with an apology. The CNN moderator called him "Cain" in response, lightening the moment.
Clay Hegar writes us:
On the issue of the expanded war in Afghanistan, Rick Santorum expressed his desire for American to remain and finish the fight against the Taliban. Santorum made the point that the strategy of worldwide terrorist leaders is predicated on an America without resolve. Although the idea of finishing a war to prove we are not weak can easily come off as ignorant chest-beating, Santorum made his point eloquently. Indeed, the weak and irresolute nature of democracies is part of the philosophical underpinning of terrorism itself. This issue must be considered with care in any discussion of our future handling of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Kudos to Rick Santorum for elevating the debate by effectively making this important point.
Michelle Bachmann made a balanced and nuanced argument urging caution against entirely revoking our aid to Pakistan. Bachmann's service on the House Intelligence Committee seemed to be on display as she reminded viewers of the general instability in the nuclear nation, including specific attacks on nuclear facilities. The detailed knowledge and contemplative demeanor she employed in her discussion of our south Asian "frienemy" contrasted well with the brash call by Perry to simply cut all of the aid. Although Bachmann's comments seem to have survived a initial fact check, there is concern that she may have said too much.
I still tentatively support Rick Perry for the nomination, but nonetheless found his showing at the debate irksome. On many issues Perry seemed to be shooting from the hip. This was clearly the case on the Pakistan problem, which Perry proposed to solve with some sort of free trade zone between India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in order to foster goodwill between the south Asian nations. A particularly cringeworthy moment came when Perry called on Leon Panetta to resign in protest of Obama's handling of the debt crisis if he "is an honorable man." Rick has done well in Texas, and has the potential to be a good President, but he will have to hone his foreign policy positions. After all, as Perry should know given his extensive criticism of federal overreach, one of the main reasons our union was even formed was to deal effectively with the rest of the world.
Ron Paul made one good point in reminding viewers that the national debt problem could undermine our strength abroad more so than any terrorist group. Otherwise, he was vague and nonsensical. The national debt point was really more in the realm of domestic politics anyway, and all of the rest of what Paul said can be summed up with one word: isolationism. It would be a fine and welcome argument for someone to make, but Paul will not or cannot elucidate on his vague pronouncements. Ron warns us not to start a war with Iran, but doesn't offer any credible explanation as to why their nuclear program is of no concern. Similarly he warns of the danger of the PATRIOT act to American liberty, but then does not go into any detail on the objectionable parts of the act itself, or alternatives which might replace it. It is apparent that Paul's foreign policy positions were not arrived at through a rigorous process. By relying on generalities which don't convince discerning primary voters, Paul is doing a disservice to his own ideals.
The always insightful Andrew Malcolm quips, "Forget Gingrich and Romney, Republican voters win this latest debate."
The candidate winners were: Newt Gingrich, who continues to display his knowledge of history and on-stage debating skills, and Mitt Romney, who still looks presidential, poised, safe and error-free.
Amazing what top-notch poll numbers will do for a politician's confidence. The affable, even humble Newt showed up in Constitution Hall, the patient professor prepared to explain his positions and how he'd thought them out.
He's a most refreshing change from the campaigner-in-chief who prefers issuing ideas and intentions as definitive assertions, even when we all now know he'll change them in a couple of months.